Retro Review: ‘Dead End Drive-In’


I get a warm and fuzzy feeling in my tum-tum when I am at the drive-in. Sure the asphalt may be crumbling and the snack stand building wears every bit of its 1980’s decor proudly, but there is a certain magic about the place. There have even been nights when I have been there until the wee hours of the morning enjoying one of the Time Warp nights at my local drive-in. That being said if I were forced to live in a post-apocalyptic community within the confines of the drive-in my feelings towards it would probably change. In 1986, an Australian cult classic Dead End Drive-In showed us a horrible world where society has collapsed and drive-ins are prison

After swiping his brother’s prized car, Jimmy “Crabs” picks up his girlfriend Carmen and head out to the Star Drive-In. While there someone takes the wheels off the car stranding him there, and soon Jimmy learns he was meant to be stranded there. He and Carmen are now citizens of a concentration camp-based community for delinquent youths. While Carmen gets sucked into the culture of their prison, Crabs is determined to find a way out.

The film was shot in a little over a month at a drive-in. At the time, these venues were not nearly the draws they once were but they had plenty empty space to fill with rusted and vandalized vehicles and punk rock degenerates. In fact I applaud, fan-favorite Aussie director Brian Trenchard-Smith and his crew for transforming this setting into a Mad Max-esque wasteland that still radiated a grungy coolness. Beneath the fun anarchic vibe of the movie there is a social commentary that is perhaps more relevant now than it was in 1986. It tells of a youth so enraptured by the entertainment put before them that they are lulled into submission by it as the world goes to Hell. When forced to confront these realities this community falls to pieces and a white supremacist faction even rises to prominence. So long as they stay confined to the theater and fighting each other, the overlords of the state are OK with this.

While this flick is definitely an oddity, Dead End Drive-In has become a major cult classic. A perfectly balanced approach to making a social point but not losing track of the fact that it is ultimately a kick-ass punk rock sci-flick.